Because AP rankings before a down is played in the season matter so much.
Snark and skepticism aside, UCLA’s ranking seems rather fair. After a disastrous end to the season in 2012—a notion validated by the Bruins’ butt-kicking at the hands of the Baylor Bears in the Holiday Bowl—it’d be difficult to expect the Bruins to be ranked ahead of well-established top-25 schools like Nebraska, Boise State, and TCU (who come in at 18, 19 and 20, respectively). Sure, the Bruins beat Nebraska (an argument UCLA fans made for the entirety of the 2012 campaign), but that was last year, and this year, the Bruins will have a chance to prove they belong ahead of the Cornhuskers in Lincoln come early September.
Again, preseason rankings are good fodder but they do little in explaining where teams are.
But since it’s out, let’s at least discuss some of the other Pac-12 inclusions in relation to UCLA’s ranking at No. 21.
No. 3: Oregon Ducks
The Ducks—who still haven’t decided on a color scheme!—are the highest-ranking Pac-12 squad. While there’s a reason for this, the coaching transition has to account for something. While new head coach Mark Helfrich may still run a Ducks squad that sees very little turnover, any coaching change isn’t totally seamless.
UCLA’s tilt with Oregon on October 26 could have major implications, though. Despite the coaching change, Oregon is still going to be a top-3 team in the conference, and a win against Helfrich will go a long way in ensuring Jim Mora’s progress stays on the right course.
Of course, this blogger doesn’t totally agree that Oregon belongs in the top spot in the Pac-12. My vote? …
No. 4: Stanford Cardinal
While Stanford will be forever hated by UCLA for a couple of reasons (mainly the Cardinal’s piss-poor attendance at the Pac-12 title game in 2012), it’s my belief that the Cardinal deserve the top spot. Despite Stanford’s loss of every-down back Stepfan Taylor may hurt, it wasn’t as if Taylor meant to Stanford what Johnathan Franklin ended up meaning to UCLA.
No, that Stanford team will see Kevin Hogan follow a brilliant 2012 season behind a likely stronger offensive line, while the Cardinal’s suffocating defense stays in tact for the most part. Meanwhile, David Shaw only seems to get better at coaching as he goes along, while Oregon will have an entirely new coach.
UCLA takes on Stanford a week before they play Oregon (yikes), and given how close of a loss that was, it’d be in UCLA’s best interest to win that one and prove Stanford isn’t untouchable as they were at the tail-end of last season.
No. 24: USC
Insert your “LOL” here.
Despite your disdain for the Trojans—and mine, too—USC belongs in the AP Top 25. Sure, Lane Kiffin was clueless for much of his tenure at USC (a win at Oregon and blowouts of much lesser teams in 2011 are about all he can brag about), but this team is talented. Marqise Lee, like him or not (disclaimer: I don’t like him), is damn good, and USC’s defense could be much improved now that Lane no longer endorses nepotism (and also because he fired his OWN DAD).
Meanwhile, Silas Redd could be a top-tier Pac-12 running back, and defensive back Su’a Cravens could match UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes as the most important defensive freshman in 2013.
No, USC doesn’t belong higher. Let’s not forget that a fourth-year coach on the hot seat will almost always have an uphill battle.
No. 25: Oregon State
Does Oregon State belong here? Given their 2012 campaign, sure. After starting hot—the Beavers rattled off six straight wins (including a week three win over UCLA) before falling to an ever-confusing 2012 Washington team—the Beavers never had a “bad” loss, save for their tilt with intrastate rival Oregon (but let’s be real, Oregon makes 99 percent of teams look bad).
And though the Alamo Bowl loss to Texas was rough (the Beavers led by a substantial amount late in the game before choking to the Longhorns late), it proved that their success wasn’t a fluke. With Mike Riley taking over play-calling duties, and with a much-improved defense, Oregon State was able to take its fair share of games.
Sadly, UCLA doesn’t get a chance to avenge its frustrating loss to OSU this season. (In case you forgot, UCLA lost to Oregon State by what felt like a blowout, with the Bruins failing to recover from that exposure until after the bye week). However, at least UCLA doesn’t live in some desolate area like Corvallis.